Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
Cars are about to get more expensive. And it’s going to save you money. Yes, it sounds loony, but I believe it, because Consumer Reports says so.
This is not a group of people prone to hyperbole, and frankly, that gives them credibility. Take their product ratings. I can’t remember the last time I saw a product score more than about 78-percent after undergoing Consumer Reports’ battery of tests. These folks don’t exaggerate.
New Fuel Efficiency Standards
And yet this is what Consumer Reports has to say about the government’s new “CAFE” (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for cars and trucks: ”Imagine a federal regulation that will save you thousands of dollars, while also cutting back on pollution, strengthening American industry, creating jobs and reducing our oil consumption. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. … The updated CAFE standards … will do just that.”
Whoa. These new standards can do all that and most of us have never heard of them? Let’s review. “CAFE Standards” sounds like something to do with how much coffee you’re allowed to consume. But actually, they’re about how much fuel your car can consume. The goal of the new standards is for the cars of 2025 to emit half the carbon of the cars of 2010.
To do that, each manufacturers’ fleet must average 54.5 miles per gallon. The individual vehicle you buy may not sip gas that slowly, but the average for vehicles overall will be dramatically improved. The new standards will start to phase in for model year 2017, but you’ll likely see the difference sooner as manufacturers strive for this goal.
At a forum on the new CAFE Standards, David Strickland of the National Highway Transportation Administration called them “one of the greatest accomplishments in transportation in three decades.”
If that doesn’t do anything for you, consider this statement from Judith Enck of the Environmental Protection Agency: “Environmental policies benefit consumers and nowhere is that more obvious than in the area of transportation.”
Savings for Car Owners
How so? Consumer Reports estimated that in the future you will save $4,600 over the life of your vehicle. The car itself will cost more up front — about $2,000 they think — but you’ll save about $700 a year on fuel. So after three years, the higher purchase price will have paid for itself and the real savings will begin.
Oh, and by the way, this math is calculated based on the government’s future fuel cost projection of $3.87 a gallon in the year 2025! Ha! I paid more than that 25 minutes ago when I filled up. Translation: the savings could be even greater.
“Some people now spend more on gasoline, than they do on car payments,” said Consumer Reports president and CEO Jim Guest.
Ponder that for a second and you begin to see the potential.
Types of Fuel Efficient Cars
So how are auto makers going to achieve these dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency? Who knows what they’ll introduce in a dozen years. (One panelist rhapsodized about the potential of diesel engines that burn modified gasoline.) For now, they’re banking on hybrids you can get for less, electrics that can take you farther and diesels that people actually want to drive.
How’s a consumer to choose? For stop-and-start urban drives, hybrids are the most fuel efficient and their prices have come down, so most now pay for themselves in about a year and a half. But — news flash — if you drive a lot of freeway miles, modern diesels consistently outperform hybrids. Who knew? As for electrics, right now most still have a limited range of 70-some miles, so they’re best for people who commute less than 35 miles each way. Figure out which kind of commuter you are and you’ll know what kind of car to buy.
Apparently consumers know a good deal with they see one. Driven largely by high residual values, rock-bottom interest rates, loosening credit and aggressive marketing, new-car leasing is at record high rates, according to Experian Automotive in Schaumburg, Ill. Leasing now accounts for 27.5 percent of all new-vehicle transactions, which represents a sturdy 12.5 percent increase over 2012 levels.
“Consumers tend to shop for vehicles based within the limits of their budget, and leasing is often seen as a viable path to a lower monthly payment,” says Melinda Zabritski, senior director of Automotive Credit. “Lenders have seen overall stability come back to the market since the recession, and leasing has gradually returned as a larger part of many lender strategies.”
Not surprisingly, Experian says average lease payments are likewise dropping, from $462 a year ago down to $459 in the first quarter of 2013. If that number still seems high, consider that a large majority of costly luxury cars are leased, rather than purchased outright. Still, automakers in all market segments are now pushing cut-rate leases aggressively on a wider range of models to attract bargain hunters – including those on some of the smallest and least expensive cars on the lot. They love leasing as it brings new customers back to dealerships with clocklike regularity and helps dealers maintain an inventory of recent-model used cars.
We scoured the Internet and found some incredible deals on 12 of the most desirable makes and models, including iconic cars like the BMW 3 Series and the Mini Cooper – all leasing for less than $300 a month. We even came across one car that’s leasing for as little as $99 a month, which is less than the cost of a daily grande latte at Starbucks.
Be aware that we’re identifying the lowest promoted monthly payments available for each make and model; lease terms can vary widely according to a number of factors and the numbers can be juggled according to a lessee’s preference to reflect a lower monthly payment or down payment, longer or shorter lease period and/or more or fewer miles allowed.
While the cost of a new-car lease is based largely on the available interest rate and a given model’s residual value, automakers and leasing companies can manipulate other provisions of the agreement to help sweeten the deal on a given model. Called “subventing” a lease, this often involves subsidizing a below-market interest rate, artificially inflating a vehicle’s residual value or offering bonus cash to lower a car’s transaction price.
Another way automakers can lower a lease’s monthly payment is to reduce the number of annual miles allowed. This is typically 12,000 miles per year, though some leases might include as few as 7,500 annual miles. Be sure not to enter a lease that unduly limits your mileage – particularly if you have a distant daily commute or like to take long road trips – as it may cost you dearly down the road. Depending on the lease terms you could be assessed as much as an extra 15 to 30 cents a mile for exceeding the limit, which means you’d have to come up with $150 to $300 per 1,000 extra miles on the odometer at the end of the lease. However, those who worry they might exceed the stated annual mileage can often purchase additional miles up front at a discounted rate.
Be aware that if you tend to be hard on your car or truck, think twice before leasing one. Leased vehicles must be returned in excellent condition, without dents, deep scratches, window cracks or torn upholstery and with all accessories in good working order; otherwise you’ll be assessed costly “excessive wear and tear” fees.
Finally, keep in mind that the lowest advertised lease rates are typically available only to so-called “well qualified lessees” with top credit scores who represent the lowest risk. Those with less than stellar credit will typically pay a higher financing charge that will, in turn, result in a costlier monthly payment.
The fine print: Monthly payments quoted for vehicles in our list of top lease deals are 2013 models and trim levels specified and do not include additional options, taxes or registration fees. All offers are good through July 1, 2013. Keep in mind that you may be able to garner an even better deal by negotiating a lower transaction price with the dealership. Typically the down payment and first month’s lease payment are due at signing. None of the deals listed here require a security deposit. Dealer participation may vary and the rates and provisions quoted may vary according to region. Check the automakers’ websites and local dealerships for additional deals and details.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $3,774; Annual mileage: 10,000. This is without doubt one of the best deals we’ve ever seen on what is without quarrel one of the most desirable sport sedans in the industry. This deal includes the base 320i model with the Premium Package and is subject to $1,125 dealer contribution and a $750 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $239; Term: 24 months; Due at signing: $2,009; Annual mileage: 10,000. Pound-for-pound this deal on the midsize LaCrosse delivers the “most” car for the money, with a quiet and comfortable five-passenger interior residing under a sleek and stylish exterior. This deal is for the base “eAssist” mild hybrid four-cylinder model and includes two complimentary years of OnStar Directions & Connections, SiriusXM Radio and two years or 24,000 miles (whichever comes first) of free vehicle maintenance; it’s subject to a $2,000 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $149; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,469; Annual mileage: 12,000. This price gets you a Cruze LS with automatic transmission, and represents a terrific deal on this nicely styled, accommodating and solid-performing compact sedan.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 39 months; Due at signing: $3,069; Annual mileage: 12,000. This rugged-looking smallish midsize five-passenger crossover SUV is family friendly and a real bargain at this price; it’s for a SLE-1 model with front-wheel drive. A similar deal is offered on its near twin, the suburban-chic Chevrolet Equinox.
Monthly payment: $169; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,299; Annual mileage: 10,000. One of the industry’s best-selling compact sedans received assorted improvements for 2013, with a low lease rate being the icing on the proverbial cake. This deal is for a Civic LX Sedan (including PZEV models) with automatic transmission.
Monthly payment: $219; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $3,399; Annual mileage: 10,000. Arguably one of the most amenable compact crossovers currently in production, it’s difficult to find fault with the peppy and perky CR-V, especially at this low monthly payment. It’s for a base EX model with front-wheel drive and is subject to a $500 lease cash incentive.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $2,215; Annual mileage: 10,000. It may be too small for some, but the venerable Mini Cooper is among the most enjoyable little cars on the road with pleasing go-kart-like handling and an eccentric nature. This deal is for the base Cooper hatchback with automatic transmission and is subject to a $500 dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 39 months; Due at signing: $2,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. With 332 horses under the hood the 370Z costs less to lease than a buck per month per horsepower. Talk about fast money. This deal is for the base coupe with manual transmission equipped with floor mats and splash guards, and is subject to dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $199; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. Think you can’t afford to drive an electric car? Think again. Assuming your daily drive is within the Leaf’s range (about 75 miles give or take on a charge), this can be a terrific deal, especially with the EPA rating the Leaf at the electric equivalent of 129/102-mpg city/highway. This deal is for the Leaf S and is subject to a $7,500 lease cash incentive and dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $299; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,999; Annual mileage: 12,000. Arguably one of the hottest new models for 2013, the FR-S is a stylish and thoroughly entertaining rear-drive sports car that’s being offered at an attractive price. This deal is for a base model with automatic transmission.
Monthly payment: $99; Term: 36 months; Due at signing: $1,393; Annual mileage: 10,000. Granted, this is a small car that’s small even by small car terms, but it’s basic transportation for two passengers and can be had for just over three bucks a day. Deal is for the base Pure Coupe model and is subject to dealer contribution.
Monthly payment: $249; Term: 39 months; due at signing $0; Annual mileage: 10,000. Not only is the incredibly spacious midsize Passat sedan being offered for a low monthly lease rate, you can drive one off the lot for zero down, which makes this an even better bargain. Deal is for a Passat S with Appearance Package and automatic transmission and is subject to dealer contribution.
Facing stiff competition in the more crowded electric car market, General Motors is offering huge incentives to move its Chevy Volt off of dealer lots.
Volt buyers can get rebates of $5,000 on 2012 Volts or $4,000 on 2013 models. Alternatively, General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) is offering a special lease deal of $269 a month for 36 months with an initial payment of $2,399 for qualified buyers, the company said Monday.
While automakers don’t make big profits (and often lose money) on electric cars, they are nevertheless an important part of the business. For example, California, the largest auto market in the United States, requires car makers to sell a certain number of plug-in cars if they wish to do business there.
The Volt is a plug-in car that can go about 40 miles on a charge, but also has a a gasoline engine to provide power for longer drives.
Besides those types of regulations, electric cars are important image makers for car companies. “A lot of these companies want to be known as the company people think of when they think of a plug-in car,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the auto Web site Edmunds.com.
Pricing and incentives on electric cars have been getting more aggressive recently as automakers try to improve sales of the cars.
Honda recently announced a new low lease rate for its Honda Fit EV, an electric car that’s available in California. The Fit EV is being offered for $259 a month with no money down. That price includes insurance, maintenance and unlimited mileage. Plus, Honda (HMC)will provide a free home charging station.
Chevrolet dealers sold about 1,600 Volts last month, which is 4.3% fewer than were sold in May of 2012. Nissan (NSANF), meanwhile, saw a big increase in sales of the Leaf plug-in. Nissan sold 2,138 Leafs last month compared to just 510 the year before. Nissan is offering very low lease prices on the Leaf. The Leaf is available for $199 a month with only $999 down. Nissan also lowered the sticker price on the car as they moved production of the car from Japan to the United States.
The 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 is home to perhaps one of the most appropriate buttons we’ve encountered in the What Does This Button Do? series. Mysterious buttons are rarely spelled out as clearly as the Jeep SRT8′s, or as fun to use. By spelled out, we mean the whole word, “Launch,” appears on the button to designate the 470-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Jeep SRT8′s Launch Mode. There are no acronyms or guessing with this button. What the button does is also made clearer by the awesome depiction of a drag strip’s starting-line lights, aka a “Christmas tree.”
Jeep’s launch control is standard on SRT8s for consistent, enhanced fast starts of the high-performance SUV. Launch Mode brings the engine, suspension, transmission and driveline together for fast launches from a standstill by revving the engine at a standstill and launching the 5,000-pound SUV like a rocket.
To activate, Jeep’s instructions say the SUV must be stopped on a level surface before fully depressing the brake pedal – while in Drive – and then pressing the Launch button. While holding the brake, mash the accelerator pedal to the floor within a half-second and the engine will rev to a predetermined rpm. Once the engine speed is up, all the driver has to do is lift the brake and the SRT8 launches perfectly every time.
Cars.com reviewer Aaron Bragman tested the SRT8′s Launch Mode at the vehicle’s introduction:
“Jeep rates the SRT Grand Cherokee at 4.8 seconds from zero to 60 mph, but I discovered that this is a conservative figure: Using the SRT’s onboard software and a special launch button, I was able to consistently rip off 4.5-second zero-to-60 times, and SRT engineers say that they’ve been able to achieve 60 mph in 4.2 seconds under perfect conditions.”
Yesterday it was a Ford recall, and today it’s Toyota.
Toyota is recalling nearly a quarter of a million vehicles because of a braking problem.
The Japanese automaker said Wednesday the global recall would affect 242,000 Prius and Lexus hybrid cars made between March and October 2009. Toyota (TM) said it had received more than 90 complaints from drivers who said they needed to step more heavily on the brake pedal than they were used to. A spokeswoman said a flaw was allowing nitrogen gas to leak into the brake fluid, reducing the effectiveness of the brakes. There were no reports of accidents or injuries, she said. Most of the cars affected are in Japan, where 117,000 vehicles are being recalled, followed by 91,000 in North America, 30,000 in Europe and smaller numbers in other markets.
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., said it would inspect the brake booster pump assembly on recalled Prius and Lexus HS 250h vehicles and replace it if necessary. Toyota has been struggling to repair its reputation for reliability and safety after a series of recalls affecting millions of vehicles in recent years.
Ford (F, Fortune 500) said it is not aware of any incidents of fire due to the fuel leak, or of any injuries caused by the defect. Ford said it had received 600 complaints about the fuel leak from customers as of March 31.
Last July, Ford recalled 11,500 of its 2013 Escape SUVs because a defect in the fuel line that could cause a fire. At the time Ford took the unusual step of advising drivers not to even drive the vehicles until they were repaired. There was no such warning with the most recent recall.
Ford also announced two small recalls. It has recalled 500 2013 Lincoln MKZ vehicles because the insulation on the engine block heater can crack at extremely low temperatures. Additionally, Ford said that 25 2013 Fusions are at risk of impaired steering or the loss of steering control due the lack of an internal retaining clip.
Self-driving cars are quickly becoming a reality.
Companies like Audi and Lexus are beginning to integrate autonomous operation into their own cars using advanced computer systems, cameras, radars, and sensors that take control of vehicles at highway speeds.
Take for example Audi’s new A7 four-door sedan. It’s equipped with a range of sensors that allow the car to pilot itself. But this isn’t the same type of autonomous driving that Google’s cars can achieve.
New York Times reporter, John Markoff wrote about his experience piloting the Audi A7 last month in Jerusalem. He spoke with Mobileye Vision Technologies, the company that designs the camera-only autonomous system for Audi.
The Mobileye car does not offer the autonomy achieved by Google’s engineers. The Google car, which has been tested for more than 300,000 miles in California traffic, will merge onto freeways, drive safely through intersections, make left and right turns, and pass slower vehicles.
The Mobileye can only drive in a single lane at freeway speeds and is able to stop, slow, and then go back to highway speeds.
Instead of being compared to Google’s self-driving technology, Mobileye wants to prove that autonomous driving can be commercialized. But this feat isn’t easy to achieve.
Markoff discovered that Google’s technology is actually the future of driving. Once it’s perfected the car will be able to drive itself in any situation, including merging in and out of traffic.
Mobileye’s technology is complementing expensive cars as a way to justify at $70,000 price tag. Mobileye is more commercial and less intense than Google’s self-driving car.
Google usually gets all the attention for its self-driving car initiative, and for good reason. The search giant’s autonomous cars are at the forefront of the self-driving car craze. Google has more advanced technology, more sensors, and more cameras that give the driver a full view of what’s going on around each section of the car.
Brand value can be a fickle thing. It’s impossible to measure accurately and it can be affected by numerous volatile factors. But at the end of the day, if a consumer is willing to pay more for one brand over another then brand value becomes a vital indicator of a company’s overall value.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the auto industry, where a consumer’s perception of a brand can often be the main decisive factor when it comes to buying a new car. One of the best indicators of how valuable each brand is compared to its rivals is the annual BrandZ Top 100 global survey, conducted by influential market research firm Millward Brown.
In its latest study, Millward Brown researchers found that Toyota is once again the most valuable automotive brand in the world, with an estimated value of $24.5 billion, a gain of 12 percent on last year’s result. BMW, which has held the top spot since 2010, has been relegated to second, with its value coming in at $24 billion, a drop of 2 percent on last year.
Toyota’s strong gain was said to be brought about by increasing interest in hybridvehicles while BMW’s image was tarnished slightly by its performance in the slumping European market. Interestingly, only four other automakers made it into the BrandZ Top 100 global survey this year: Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen.
Apple, which has been the top ranking brand since 2011, is once again on top, with an estimated brand value of $185 billion.
For the study, brand value is essentially the sum of all earnings that a company’s brand alone is expected to generate. It is calculated based on information from surveyed consumers, who are asked to judge a brand based on attributes that are important to them.
World’s most valuable car brands in 2013 in $ billion; rank in top global 100; % value change from 2012
“An increase in new car sales post-recession has brought more used-car inventory into the market,” says Ricky Beggs, a senior VP at research firm Black Book. As a result, the average one-to five-year-old auto today sells for 13% less than last year. “While prices have indeed started to come down, they are still noticeably higher than where they were prior to the recession,” Beggs notes.
The best deals: luxury SUVs and full-size cars, which had bigger than average drops, probably due to gas-price worries.
Best used SUV deal
Five-year-old Land Rover Range Rover Sport
Cost now: $38,800
Cost last year: $46,700
Best used full-size deal
Five-year-old Toyota Avalon
Cost now: $15,550
Cost last year: $18,250
While buyers are, on average, paying 3% more for new vehicles this year than last, a few categories are going for less. Those are the ones at the extremes, according to Truecar.com. Thank the oil industry for deals on three-row SUVs: With fuel prices remaining high, consumers are looking for cars that get more miles to the gallon. At the same time, fuel prices aren’t outrageous enough to motivate buyers to squeeze themselves into subcompact cars for a slight savings at the pump.
Best deal on a big luxe SUV
Average paid 2013: $57,883; Change from 2012: -3.9%
Best deal on a big family SUV
Mazda CX-9 (FWD Grand Touring)
Average paid 2013: $33,699; Change from 2012: -2.3%
Best deal on a small car
Ford Fiesta (SE Model)
Average paid 2013: $15,782; Change from 2012: -3.4%
When you lease, what you’re really paying for is the value the car loses between the time you drive it off the lot and the time you return it, plus the cost of the leasing company’s financing. So today’s still-high used-car prices, combined with low interest rates, are creating some amazing lease deals, says Jesse Toprak, an analyst with auto-pricing site TrueCar.com.
Best luxury lease
2013 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Current offer: $349 a month for 27 months with $4,043 down
Best family lease
2013 Honda CR-V
Current offer: $300 a month for 36 months with $0 down
Note: Average price paid is for base model minus option costs, from Truecar.com.
The current interest rate environment may do bupkis for your savings, but you’ll be happy if you’re planning to finance a car this year. The average 48-month new car loan is going for 4% now vs. 4.4% in 2012, and the average 60-month is at 4.1% vs. 4.5%, according to Bankrate.com. On certain models, you’ll do a lot better. Dealers are offering 0% financing on the 2013 Ford Taurus for loans of up to 60 months to woo buyers away from newly redesigned cars in the segment.
As always, to find the best deal, get prequalified at a local bank or credit union before you shop; then see whether the dealer can give you a better rate.
You know the Tesla Model S, the $70,000 (and-up) electric car that “nobody can afford”? Well, evidently, more than a few people can afford it.
In fact, in the first quarter of this year, more people bought a Tesla Model S than bought any of the similarly priced gasoline-powered cars from the top three German luxury brands, according to data from LMC Automotive. About 4,750 buyers bought a Model S while just over 3,000 people bought Mercedes’ top-level sedan.
This is not a perfect comparison, of course. Actual selling prices for the Mercedes S-class sedan start toward the upper end of the Tesla Model S price range, according the the auto pricing Web site TrueCar.com, while prices for the other cars are at the lower end. And nobody gets a $7,500 federal tax credit for a buying an S-class or an A8. Also, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi each sell a full range of cars and SUVs while Tesla buyers have only one model to choose from. The blog GreenCarReports.com first noted the comparison.
Still, let’s face it, Tesla (TSLA)’s one model is doing pretty well, especially for a start-up automaker with a limited dealer network. Last week was a particularly stellar one. On Wednesday, Tesla announced a profit that exceeded Wall Street estimates. It also raised its Model S sales estimates for this year from 20,000 to 21,000.
Then on Thursday Consumer Reports came out and called the Model S the best car that it had ever tested. (Its overall performance was “off the charts,” according to the magazine’s head of auto testing, but it only earned 99 out of a possible 100 points because it can’t be driven extremely long distances without recharging.) Despite some early stumbles — such as a squabble with the New York Times over its new“super charger” network and push back from traditional car dealers over its sales strategy – Tesla seems to humming along, at least for now.